More on Frankfurt

Thomas Noble’s Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians looks quite good.  A significant portion of it is available on googlebooks, and I’ve looked over as much of it as is available.  His treatment of Frankfurt is very helpful.  He notes that Frankfurt was:

1) A long time coming.  Alcuin and then Theodulf composed lengthy theological writings on the issue of images.  It was seen as authoritative for the churches within the Frankish empire.

2) Not wholly dependent on the faulty translation of Nicaea II.  Though they did use the portion on “adoration,” this was not all there was to their case.  It merely seemed the most outrageous statement among many bad statements, and the translation they were working with was the official one for the West.

3) Inconclusive for the West’s future.  The Pope was pro-icons, but, in the words of Noble, he “agreed to disagree” with the Franks.  He knew that they had very different views, and he knew better than to directly rebuke them.  The Franks, likewise, did not wish to wage war against the papacy at this time.  This compromise did, however, effectively state that Nicaea II was neither “universal” nor “ecumenical” in the Western mind.

A Few Patristic Sources Against Icons

The early church is a complicated place.  The Reformers all claimed an antique heritage, truly believing that the original Christian doctrine was their own.  Now of course, anyone who reads deeply into the fathers knows that this claim is easier said than done.  Many times the record is mixed, but the Reformers used that very point to show that the controverted doctrine was not truly catholic.

The liturgical use of icons is one of the disputed points which has a mixed foundation in the early church.  Most people are familiar with the 2nd Council of Nicaea, which demanded the veneration of icons, citing it as apostolic.  Not as many people, however, know the opposing patristic voices.  To help counter-balance this, I have given just a few below.

Tertullian explains how the bronze serpent and the decoration on the ark of the covenant do not violate the 2nd commandment. Continue reading

History and Apologetics

Some of the contributing factors to “conversionitis” come from a false view of history.

Many fundamentalists have a skewed narrative, assuming some sort of “great apostasy of the Church” after the death of the last apostle.  The true religion was, according to this story, recovered at the time of the Reformation.  The presupposition here is that what “really counts” is a correct systematic formulation or perhaps purity of morals among the Church’s ministers.

RC and EO traditionalists have their own narrative, of course.  They presuppose that there has been a drastic falling away at some point in history, but the first five to eight centuries (depending on who you are talking to) indeed represent the apostolic Church.  The assumption of correct systematic formulation is about the same as the first group.

Liberals also tell their story.  They find discontinuity all around, and thus they assume that there is no united Church, or at least no such thing as “orthodoxy.”  Again, the assumption of correct systematic formulation is retained, only its absence serves as conclusive proof.

All of these historical narratives are false.  Continue reading

Richard Field on the Development of Purgatory

In explaining how many of the medieval Roman errors came into being, Richard Field relies on men like Jean Gerson and William of Ockam.  He also displays a strong grasp of the patristics in his own right.

Regarding the subject of purgatory, Field states that the idea that the Pope, or anyone else for that matter, could dispense extra merit to advance the soul from purgatory to heaven was a totally unheard of notion.  Tied as it is to the larger Roman soteriological system, Field is confident in his assertions of Rome’s fraudulent claims to antiquity.

But regarding the actual history of purgatory, Field admits the story is more complicated.  This is where many evangelicals are easily confused, by the way.  They have certain assumptions about “the early church,” and in the event that something appears in the early church, in “seed form” as Newman would say, they assume that the later development is thus vindicated.  In this instance of purgatory, however, this cannot be the case.  Field explains:

But if we speak of a declination from the sincerity of the Christian faith, it is certain it began long ago, even in the first ages of the Church.  Of this sort was the error that the souls of the just are in some part of hell till the last day, as Tertullian (De Anime, c. 55) , Irenaeus (Contra Haereses v.31), and sundry other of the ancient did imagine (Sixtus Senens. Biblioth. lib. vi. annot. 345); and that they see not God nor enjoy heaven’s happiness, till the general resurrection, which was the opinion of many of the fathers.

That all catholic Christians, how wickedly soever they live, yet holding the foundation of true Christian profession, shall in the end, after great torments endured in the world to come, be saved “as it were by fire.”  This was the error of sundry of the ancient, who durst not say as Origen, that the angels that fell shall in the end be restored: nor, as some other, mollifying the hardness of Origen’s opinion, that all men, whether Christians or infidels: nor, as a third sort, that all Christians, how damnably soever erring in matter of faith, shall in the end be saved: but thought it most reasonable, that all right believing Christians should find mercy, whatsoever their wickedness were (Hieron. in comment. in Esaiae lxvi.; Aug. de civitate Dei, li. 21, cap. 24, 25, 26, 27)

~Of the Church, Bk. III Chpt. 9 p 176

Purgatory used to be Hell, from which men were eventually redeemed.  Though some teachers could maintain universalism (Gregory of Nyssa comes to mind), many could not, and the doctrine “developed” fairly drastically.

This sort of reading of Church history is not of much comfort to the recent ex-fundamentalist.  In rejecting the “great apostasy” theory of their forefathers, they earnestly hoped to find some sort of respectable pristine “early church” upon which they could base their theology.  What they will actually find is much messier.

Of course, in rudiments and genealogy, we all come from the “early church.”  However, when it comes to systematic theology, there is an awful lot of water under everyone’s bridge.

You can read all of Field’s Of the Church here.

Reformed Images

My friend Eric has a great little post up about Zwingli’s Illustrated Bible here.

The Reformed did not oppose the making of images (pictures, paintings, sculptures), but rather the use of images in worship, along with superstitious ideas that the image was some sort of locus for the divine.  They appealed to the 2nd commandment, the New Testament’s reiteration of this theology (Paul at Athens, as well as other epistolary texts), and the first several centuries of the Christian church.

Calvin on the Tradition of the Fathers

In his preface to the Institutes, addressed to the king of France, John Calvin gives his own view of the patristic tradition and how it relates to the situation prior to the Reformation.  Both admiration and critique can be seen in Calvin’s outlook.  He writes:

4. It is a calumny to represent us as opposed to the Fathers (I mean the ancient writers of a purer age), as if the Fathers were supporters of their impiety. Were the contest to be decided by such authority (to speak in the most moderate terms), the better part of the victory would be ours.  While there is much that is admirable and wise in the writings of those Fathers, and while in some things it has fared with them as with ordinary men; these pious sons, forsooth, with the peculiar acuteness of intellect, and judgment, and soul, which belongs to them, adore only their slips and errors, while those things which are well said they either overlook, or disguise, or corrupt; so that it may be truly said their only care has been to gather dross among gold. Then, with dishonest clamour, they assail us as enemies and despisers of the Fathers. So far are we from despising them, that if this were the proper place, it would give us no trouble to support the greater part of the doctrines which we now hold by their suffrages. Still, in studying their writings, we have endeavoured to remember (1 Cor. 3:21-23; see also Augustin. Ep. 28), that all things are ours, to serve, not lord it over us, but that we are Christ’s only, and must obey him in all things without exception. He who does not draw this distinction will not have any fixed principles in religion; for those holy men were ignorant of many things, are often opposed to each other, and are sometimes at variance with themselves.

It is not without cause (remark our opponents) we are thus warned by Solomon, “Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28). But the same rule applies not to the measuring of fields and the obedience of faith. The rule applicable to the latter is, “Forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house” (Ps. 45:10). But if they are so fond of allegory, why do they not understand the apostles, rather than any other class of Fathers, to be meant by those whose landmarks it is unlawful to remove? This is the interpretation of Jerome, whose words they have quoted in their canons. But as regards those to whom they apply the passage, if they wish the landmarks to be fixed, why do they, whenever it suits their purpose, so freely overleap them? Continue reading

Nathaniel Dimock

Along with Daniel Waterland, Nathaniel Dimock is a very important reader of the patristic sources.  He helped combat the fallacious claims of the Oxford movement, and while not downplaying various historical discontinuities throughout the ages, he vindicates the Reformed position on the Eucharist as a thoroughly catholic one.

His On Eucharistic Worship in the English Church is now on googlebooks.

Why No Images?

In Acts 17, Paul explains why idols, statues, carvings, and paintings are all improper means of contemplating God.  He says in verses 24-29:

God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;  for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’  Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.

Now Paul is saying this on this side of the Incarnation, and so that particular theological argument just cannot stick: if the mere fact of not approving of the use of visual aids in worship is anti-incarnational, then so goes Paul.  But I think there’s a better answer, and I think it is very incarnational.

So, what is Paul’s reasoning against the Greek use of images?  The answer is found in vv 27-29:

…So that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.

We do not find the Divine nature in gold, silver or stone, and I believe it is fair to say, not even in wood.

We find it in other people, the offspring of God.

The Uncommon Bread of the Caroline Divines

This is a guest post by Peter Escalante:

At the request of my friend Steven Wedgeworth, I am making this little essay available. It was originally published on the now retired Reformed Catholicism forum, and was composed quickly in order to provide some initial rebuttals of untenable claims made by Mr Steel and Mr Douglas, and to begin a public discussion. Mr Steel withdrew. But even recently, on the Auburn Avenue blog, he claimed that his “evidence” was not addressed. I believe this to be far from the truth; but readers can decide. The basic points of contention have been handled very ably by Pastor Wedgeworth in discussion at the Bucer site. What I might add is that Steel had originally claimed that the use of material metaphors such as “artery” showed that Andrewes had a non-Reformed view of the Eucharist; but I gave passages, in the essay below, to show that Andrewes used exactly the same language of prayer. Steel gave quotes from John Johnson, as representative of Andrewes’ school of thought; I gave a quote to show that Johnson was a typical epikletic virtualist, as most of the Nonjurors were; this Eucharistic theology is well known to be a direct development of Calvin’s teaching (much to the distress of Eastern Orthodox examining possible points of agreement between themselves and the English tradition). I concluded with something of a rhetorical trick, using a quote from Andrewes which mocks and abhors as unholy the natural liturgical consequences of Roman doctrine: and that means the substance of the doctrine, not simply a speculative exposition of its metaphysics (transubstantiation). I also gave quotes from Andrewes showing that Andrewes held that the body of Christ is in heaven and not here, and even one place where explicitly distinguishes English church doctrine from that of Rome on this point; this of course is the extra Calvinisticum, a term which makes more sense relative to Lutheran theology, but can serve to indicate the consensus Calvinist teaching on this point. Mr Steel chose not to continue his part in the discussion; and I think it fair to say that I consider myself the one whose evidence- and this essay was just meant to be the beginning of a discussion- was not answered.

Why does any of this matter? Sacramental theology is important, for involved in it are some of the chief principles of the relation between God and man. Unreformed theologies of the Eucharist are bound up with deformed doctrines of the church, which make religious fetishes of the sacred symbols, and thereby subject the people of God to the control of the class thought to have the spiritual mark enabling them to create and dispose these reified means of alienated “grace”.

What also matters is the memory of the old English church. My initial debate with Steel began when he criticized the work of the eminent liturgical historian Dr Bryan Spinks, which I had earlier in that conversation recommended, as biased toward a Reformed reading of the Carolines. Dr Spinks’ excellent work speaks for itself; but I would point out here that Dr Spinks is known and respected for his work on early Syrian liturgy, so it is certainly not as though his intellectual horizons are narrowly 16th century. The early English church, despite all the misconstruals of it by Anglo-Catholics, was Protestant and Reformed. The history of the 19th Anglo-Catholic attempt to deny this is a painful one for those who prize integrity of inquiry. The work of Peter Nockles and the more recent, and excellent, work of Jean-Louis Quantin, have shown how wrongheaded that 19th century orgy of wishful thinking really was. But this was proved back in the 19th c itself by Nathaniel Dimock, regarding sacramental theology, and regarding ecclesiology, by the American Bishop Charles McIlwaine, in his Roman, Oxford, and Anglican Divinity Compared.

The English Church of Elizabeth, James, and Charles is, in some ways, a model of importance for own time. Reformed churches, their common mind constricted by familiarity only with Scots and English Presbyterianism, miss the riches of Reformed thought available in Richard Hooker, or Richard Field, or Lancelot Andrewes (just as they miss the riches available in the thought of German and French Reformed). Anglo-Catholic attempts to prove that the established church was somehow not really Protestant are attempts to deprive modern Protestants of useful heritage. Upon closer examination, many of the things which look less like the Protestantism Americans are used to, can clearly be seen as consistently evangelical appropriations of catholic- and by catholic I mean catholic, which excludes the distinctives of the unreformed- tradition. And too, part of the problem is a narrowly insular focus: just as the Episcopalian settlement of England is seen as less unique when compared to its Swedish parallel (or the teaching of the German Protestant Joachim Stephani), so too Andrewes’ Eucharistic doctrine, for example, looks less unique when compared to that of David Pareus (and other reformers ; the work of Nick Thompson is very helpful here).

At issue in the Andrewes debate particularly is the matter of the ancient church. Those who would read Andrewes as unreformed make much of his “patristic” and “Eastern” inclinations; but although, as Jean-Louis Quantin has shown, the 17th century royalist divines did make much of patristics in the service of forging a distinctly national-confession identity, this does not necessarily imply a departure from Reformed distinctives (Quantin is an excellent remedy to the sort of thing one finds in works such as Canon Middleton’s on the English interest in the old Fathers). As one of the quotes from Bishop Joseph Hall in the essay below shows, the English could easily read the Fathers as basically consonant with Reformed Eucharistic doctrine; and the 18th c Waterland, a great patristics man, engaged in close and extensive patristic exposition, and yet his doctrine on this point is entirely Reformed.

I have removed a single sentence from the beginning of the essay as irrelevant, and ask the reader to remember that it was written quickly as an informal contribution to the beginning of a discussion. Continue reading